A very Cloddhuck Christmas

Santa Vas malby Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Most cultures mark the deepest darkness of the winter and the turning of the year with feasts and rituals. Festivals often spread from one culture to another when peoples engage in trade, though the celebrations may lose their original meaning and acquire new ones in the transmission.

By the time humans went to the stars in the 2130s, Christmas was a largely secular celebration marked by consumption of all manner of luxuries. Humanity’s client species and trading partners adopted their own versions of the holidays – as the humans took the last week of their year off, those whose businesses involved regular dealings with humanity had a good excuse to kick back and relax themselves.

The final defeat of the mynatid wasps on December 31st, 2261 and the ensuing foundation of the Combine solidified the week leading up to January 1st as the major festive holiday across all the Seven Peoples. Founding Day – January 1st, the anniversary of the Combine – is still the biggest day of celebration across the Bleed. Official ceremonies as well as parties and wild carousing  go on into the small hours of every January 2nd. On many worlds, ships chase the fall of night around the planet, prolonging Founding Day to give passengers more hours to party.

Before the Mohilar War, Founding Day was strongly associated with cultural exchange and integration, and was a favourite day for xenoweddings. During the war, ceremonies acquired a distinctly militaristic tone and, by the late 2450s, commemorations of the war dead dominated the once-joyous anniversary. Now the Combine uses Founding Day as a reminder of the strength and unity of the shattered polity, which means pro-Bleed factions attack the celebration as a day of cultural hegemony. Most of these attacks are restricted to speeches and counter-celebrations; terror attacks on Founding Day are rare – at least so far.

The run-up to Founding Day is marked in different ways by different peoples and cultures in the Combine. The human Christmas is the most widely celebrated of these festivals. In fact, several synthcultures elevate Christmas to the core of their philosophy. Yuleworld, for example, celebrates Christmas almost year-round, breaking only for the seasonal Gastric Repair Days. Other human worlds, influenced by the resurgence of spiritual belief across the Combine, hold that the religious meaning of Christmas must be extricated from the secular morass of commercialism. This is taken to an extreme on Briareus, where the holiday is a time of solemn prayer, and any merrymaking – even laughter – is forbidden on penalty of exile.

The kch-thk adopted Christmas during the brief Syndicate period of the 2230s. The Primal Mass attempted to reassure the humans that their new insectoid allies were not so different, and so kch-thk clans competed to be as ostentatiously human as possible. Christmas was especially suited for this purpose – if there’s one thing the kch-thk can do, it’s eat. Trillions of clone-turkeys perished in the name of diplomacy in the 2230s. The kch-thk kept the festival even after the collapse of that alliance. To this day, ‘having a traditional kch-thk Christmas dinner’ is a euphemism for grotesquely excessive gluttony.

The boisterous raconids also adopted Christmas from the humans, on the grounds that anything the humans can do, the raconids can do better, faster and louder. Raconid Christmas parties are notoriously debauched, often lasting four or five days before the participants collapse or get kicked off the planet by local authorities. To avoid such problems, many raconids take to the party fleets for the holiday season. These fleets are each composed of a dozen or so ships, each one packed to the gills with food and drink. They land only when the stocks are exhausted; allegations of party fleets turning to piracy to prolong the festivities are unproved but entirely plausible.

The balla find the raucous nature of many informal celebrations to be disconcertingly emotional, and prefer to remain aloof from them. They do mark the holiday season with mor-abol, a ritual in which members of a Balla family (or, for spacefarers far from home, the local balla community) gather together. At the start of the three-day ritual, one balla is chosen at random to be the abol-jin. The others prepare and fortify themselves with meditation and psychic exercises. After three days, the abol-jin is permitted to ‘speak from the heart’ on any topic important to them. They may even show emotion during this outpouring, as the other balla have prepared and shielded themselves against any contagion of feelings. Rarely, a balla may call upon non-balla to join in mor-abol. This expresses astounding trust and intimacy with any non-balla so favoured.

Being mildly radioactive, ndoalites can never be wholly comfortable socialising (as the saying goes, they’re the half-life of the party). Ever practical, though, they’ve turned their inability to participate in the social gatherings of the festive season into an advantage. Every year, ndoalites take on extra shifts at work or swap assignments to give their co-workers more free time. Ndoalites keep the Combine running over the holidays. It’s become a badge of honour for a ndoalite to bear extra burdens at this time of year and they refer to it as [happy work].

Alone among the major species, the tavak do not celebrate any festival in the run-up to Founding Day. Historically, this was due to the fact that many tavak hibernated through the darkest part of their winters until the spring when the insects became plentiful again. These days, though, the tavak eschew the holiday season out of sheer stubbornness, and get tetchy when anyone tries to draw them into the celebrations.

By contrast, the durugh took one of their minor holidays, the previously obscure King’s Gift, and made it into a huge celebration as it happens to fall on December 27th by the Combine calendar. Just as the kch-thk adopted Christmas to assimilate with human culture, the durugh used King’s Gift to assimilate into the Combine. On King’s Gift, each durugh is expected to pay tribute to the king. In modern times, this ‘gift’ usually takes the form of community service or investment, or even charity to the poor. The office of havrash, or ‘tribute co-ordinator’, is now highly sought-after, as the havrash of a large city or planet has control over all the money given by the durugh population and almost complete discretion on how this money is spent, as long as it somehow glorifies the king’s name.

Ironically, the durugh gave rise to another celebration that takes place around Founding Day. It was on December 26th, 2110 that the durugh made first contact with the primitive cloddhucks. Today, most cloddhucks still celebrate the Day of the Grey Gods, although they use it as an excuse for feasting and downplay their previous state as servants and footsoldiers for the durugh. Radicalised cloddhucks see the Day of Grey Gods as the day when their species was enslaved, and use it as an excuse to start trouble in any durugh neighbourhoods.

The haydross have little concept of seasons but were keen observers of the stars before they discovered space travel. Therefore, the solstice of great importance to them, and is marked by the recital of long equation-songs and the chanting of sagas. Haydross tend to be nervous in social situations and mask this nervousness by defaulting to their traditions. Pity the poor soul who gets trapped next to a haydross at a party and gets treated to the full seven-hour Song of the Fundamental Forces.

Icti also find some social gatherings difficult, but for very different reasons. For the first few years after a union, the icti must explain its changed status to every casual acquaintance of its host. Even the most entertaining party becomes a chore when one has to keep repeating the explanation of how you died, then got brought back to life by joining with an alien crab. Family gatherings are especially awkward.

For the newest additions to the Combine the holiday season is fraught with uncertainty. As they were created to fight for the Combine, many cybes have strong feelings about Founding Day so the run-up to that anniversary can be volatile. It really doesn’t help that two of the memory donors associated with the Cybe’s neural rewiring ability have powerful connections to Christmas. Professor Greenwater hated Christmas while Krk-krt absolutely adored the holiday, especially its cheesiest and most commercialised elements.

Verpid culture is even younger than that of the cybes, and they don’t have any references inherited from humanity to guide them. Verpids tend to use the holiday period as a platform to raise awareness of the plight of their nascent species, and encourage others to give the gift of genetic freedom by contributing to the Verpid Foundation. Pledge today!

Finally, most vas mal react to religious ceremonies the same way they react to philosophers and physicists – by giggling and muttering ‘wrong! Wrong! Close, but oh so wrong!’ They do enjoy dressing up as Father Christmas. After all, they once possessed cosmic omniscience, and know who’s been naughty or nice.

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